Who were some of the NFL’s best values in free agency? (Part 2)
By Bryce Rossler
Last week, we reviewed what some of the best value buys in free agency were by comparing average annual salary to our proprietary Total Points metric (if you wish to learn more about that stat, please click here).
In it, we assessed the best values according to 2019 performance and expressed them in terms of dollars per Total Points Per 1000 Snaps ($/TP1,000). There has been a lot of action since last Thursday, so we saw fit to circle back and highlight some of the newer deals that we believe to be good values for teams.
Cornelius Lucas to the Redskins
A few hours after the publication of the first installment, seventh-year offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas signed a two-year, $5.3M deal with the Washington Redskins. Lucas had been a career reserve before starting eight games in injury relief for the Bears last year, so the deal was just a small blip on the radar. Now, it may prove to have serious implications with Trent Williams’ agent once more calling for the organization to trade or release his client. But perhaps this is a deal we should have paid more attention to regardless.
Not only has it long been apparent that Williams and the Redskins have irreconcilable differences, but Lucas was highly effective last year. He ranked 26th and 17th among tackles in run and pass blocking Total Points/1,000 Snaps with 37.8 and 34.6, respectively.
Serviceable tackles are hard to come by in the NFL and his deal is a bargain at a going rate of $53K/Total Points per 1,000, which looks especially favorable compared to the contract the Jets gave George Fant (3 years, $27.3M), who provided less value (28.7 TP/1,000) in 2019 and will cost significantly more per unit of value ($317K/TP1,000) moving forward.
While you might make the case that Lucas is an unknown commodity, he played nearly as many OL snaps in 2019 (462) as Fant has combined the past two years (474).
Haha Clinton Dix to the Cowboys
Another NFC East team deserves a mention for finding value in scooping up a former Bear. The Dallas Cowboys gave a 1-year, $4M deal to HaHa Clinton-Dix, who is now with his fourth team since 2018.
The 2019 season was Dix’s best in the Total Points era (2016-Present), as he ranked 11th among safeties in TP/1,000 with 45.3 points saved. That mark is better than the figure from his 2016 Pro Bowl campaign, when he finished 24th among safeties (33 TP/1,000). If he can continue that rate of production, his one-year rate of $88K/TP1,000 will be highly valuable and may earn him a more lucrative deal in 2021.
For now, it looks like the Cowboys are getting more bang for their buck than other teams did in the rental safety market, as the Browns are paying Karl Joseph $105K/TP1,000 and the Lions are paying Jayron Kearse $225K/TP1,000.
And to make matters sweeter, the player Clinton-Dix is replacing, Jeff Heath, is costing the Raiders $112K/TP1000.
Stefen Wisniewski to the Steelers
The term ‘hometown discount’ gets overused in football discourse, but Stefen Wisniewski’s deal appears to be just that. A Pittsburgh native, Wisniewski signed a 2-year, $2.85M deal with the Steelers after producing 36.8 TP/1,000 on 197 regular season snaps in 2019. That $39K/TP1000 is far and away the best value a team has gotten for an offensive lineman this offseason.
Kevin Johnson to the Browns
New Browns CB Kevin Johnson has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, but 2019 may have been a breakthrough year for him. He was a first round pick out of Wake Forest in 2015 and ranked 2nd in TP/1,000 in his second season, although that campaign was cut ten games short due to a broken foot. A sprained MCL limited him to 12 games in 2017 and he ranked just 106th in TP/1,000.
Johnson was a non-qualifier in 2018 as a concussion landed him on injured reserve after just one game. Although many first round busts have followed this pattern and burnt out of the league, Buffalo took a chance on Johnson and he rewarded them by ranking first in TP/1,000.
Based on his 2019 performance, Johnson comes at a massively inexpensive $33K/TP1,000. It remains to be seen whether he can sustain that type of production, but perhaps the structure of his deal will help. Incentives can bring the value of the deal from $3.5M up to $6M, in which case the Browns would still be getting a deal at $57K/TP1,000.
There are still some big-name players left on the market and the lack of interest in some of them raises questions about what kind of money they’ll ultimately receive. It is possible that some teams squeeze extra value out of the top tier of the market, but, as it stands, the deals we’ve highlighted thus far are the best.
More generally, it appears that some positions are paid more per unit of value than others and that shorter-term deals seem like better values, at least initially. There is room for more encompassing research into these phenomena and perhaps we will revisit these ideas when the dust finally settles on free agency.